It’s that time of year, again, isn’t it. When we start thinking about what would make a good present for someone, or perhaps more importantly, what we’d like to suggest would make a good present for ourselves. Well, we’re lucky, because there’ve been some absolutely top notch sf novels out this year, any one of which would be the perfect gift idea. So, here’s ten great ideas to start with, and we’ll be be giving you ten more ideas in the next post.
We’ve written about al of these books before on this blog, but they’ve been picking up some really interesting reviews all over the place. So here’s what others have been saying about them.
American War – Omar El Akkad
The mission of Omar El Akkad’s first novel, American War, is admirable: to encourage western readers, especially Americans, to put themselves in the shoes of the world’s radicalised displaced people. Set in the late 21st century, the novel imagines an America wrecked by war and the flooding brought on by climate change … El Akkad, a Canadian journalist born in Egypt and raised in Qatar, has said that his intention with American War is not to make the reader admire Sarat. Rather, “in this incredibly polarised world we live in”, he hopes that by the time the reader gets to the end of his novel, “you’re not on her side, you don’t support her, you’re not willing to apologise for her – but you understand how she got to the place where she is”. – The Guardian
The Rift – Nina Allan
Nina Allan’s new novel, which, like her last—namely The Race, a story of stories about the lives of ordinary people becoming unfastened from reality—mixes the real with the unreal to tell a uniquely human tale, albeit one that may contain aliens … it’s up to us to to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore; what to take on faith and what to doubt. One thing you won’t find in this brilliantly ambiguous book is the truth, but so long as you don’t read it expecting a definitive explanation, you definitely won’t be disappointed. – Tor.com
The Massacre of Mankind – Stephen Baxter
Would Mars, a dying and depleted planet, simply abandon its plans for conquest? Wouldn’t those “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” continue to regard our Earth with the same envious eyes and, slowly and surely, draw up new plans against us? Such is the premise of Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind — the phrase appears in Wells’s original novel — and, though a bit too long and loose-limbed, it is a highly enjoyable work of homage and extrapolation. The action, which begins in 1920, moves right along. Baxter’s chapters are short, sharp shocks, and he cleverly reuses many of Wells’s original characters. – Washington Post
Tropic of Kansas – Christopher Brown
The story essentially unfolds as a road novel. Usually, American road novels, which are often concerned with personal freedom and liberation, have a free-flowing style to match (think Kerouac, Twain, or Wolfe), but in Tropic of Kansas nothing is poetic about the constant threat of commercial and volunteer “people hunters” and relentless drone strikes. If Brown’s sentences seem restrained, even ugly at times, perhaps this is because there’s not much beauty to describe in this world. One paragraph starts off promisingly, describing the rich wildlife of the southern Louisiana marshes, but ends describing “petrochemical extraction machines” that invade the peaceful biome “like giant robot mosquitoes.” Brown knows what he’s doing with all this ugliness … The goal of this kind of speculative fiction, he states, should be to report “ugly truths about the human society we live in” in order to “discover its real alternatives.” – LA Review of Books
Dreams before the start of time – Anne Charnock
For seekers of a quiet future–away from watching the US government antagonize and bomb other places to bits–Anne Charnock’s latest novel brings a kind of serenity to near future Western life by focusing on the not-so-nuclear… family. In three parts, from 2034 to 2084 to 2120, Dreams Before the Start of Time examines on-the-horizon socio-industrial advances and their implications on some of the most important parts of daily life: romance, family, and childbearing … With Charnock’s work, the best advice is to take nothing at face value. – From Couch to Moon
Dichronauts – Greg Egan
The geometry of the world of Dichronauts is impossible to intuit, but Greg Egan describes it with such patience and clarity that it is also impossible to misunderstand. Flatland lies somewhere at the base of this book, but Egan far surpasses anything Abbott managed, both in playing with dimensions and the most brutal and poignant depiction of oppression I have ever seen in fiction. This is why I love Egan’s work – he is absolutely unflinching. He never cuts corners with his world, his characters’ motivations, or the agonizing dilemmas in which they find themselves. They are people trying to do right in circumstances in which doing right is physically impossible. They get no magic wands to wave, no convenient shortcut to everyone’s best interests. – The Kingdoms of Evil
Gnomon – Nick Harkaway
Science fiction in general is having an interesting moment right now, as writers and filmmakers respond to the loopily futuristic contemporaneities of robotics and AI research, but Nick Harkaway goes further than most in this vast and baroque novel. It’s a technological shaggy-dog tale that threatens to out-Gibson William Gibson, a dense and angry fable about political coercion and control, and a loopy, self-swallowing story about storytelling. It is huge fun. And it will melt your brain. – The Spectator
The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin strives to tell the story of Essun, Nassun and the broken world around them — haunted by fragments of “deadciv” technology that will seem almost familiar or plausible to 21st-century readers — with a minimum of exposition and a maximum of action. Since the history of the Stillness is exceedingly complicated and each incident dense with important detail, The Stone Sky is not always easy reading. In this sense, Game of Thrones fans should feel at home: Yes, you need to read the earlier installments first and yes, rereading individual chapters (or the whole book) at a slower pace — after your first pell-mell rush through to find out what happens — is recommended. – New York Times
The Moon and the Other – John Kessel
As tensions escalate, Kessel also reveals a satisfying degree of science fictional invention to go with his political and psychological insights; we learn of a top-secret matter duplicator that might have come out of Budrys’s Rogue Moon, and a spectacular disaster reminds us of the old cliché that, no matter how elaborate and protected your habitats, the moon fundamentally wants to kill you if you go there. The Moon and the Other brilliantly balances character, social commentary, and hard SF in a novel of surprising density and depth of feeling. – Locus
Provenance – Ann Leckie
Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, part political thriller, and part exploration of questions of memory, meaning, and cultural identity as represented by physical relics of the past, Provenance is an extraordinarily good book. Tightly paced and brilliantly characterised—as one might expect from Leckie—with engaging prose and a deeply interesting set of complicated intersecting cultures, it is a book that I loved, and one that I expect to read again. – Tor.com
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.